I learned this back in Karlsbad (Karlovy Vary for all of you locals) in the Czech Republic in the early nineties when I was playing Golf with Simon at one of only three golf courses in the former communist country. Simon was a German who made his millions by importing toxic waste from Germany into the Czech Republic. I won't use his last name because while his connections to the Czech and Russia mobs were only rumored, the bullet proof glass in his office was all too real.
Anyway, I had managed to hit my drive under a small wooden sitting inconveniently left on the fairway.
Why was there a bench in the fairway?
I can only assume that either some kids had dragged it as a joke into the fairway the night before, or the grounds keeper had forgot to drag it back to path that paralleled the hole after he cut the grass.
At any rate my ball was under the bloody thing and I was about to drag the bench back to the path when Simon said in his thick German accent, "Roman (pronounced Row mun) Du must play it vere it lies."
I looked at him as if he had just told me to stick my club up my you know what and replied with some indignation, "Simon this is a man made obstacle according to the rules of golf I CAN MOVE THIS BLOODY BENCH!"
He just looked at me and in his best German "Alas in Ordnung (everything in order)" condescending way and he shook his head and repeated, "Row mun, Du must play it vere it lies."
Did I mention that we were playing for a not so minor sum of money?
Did I mention that Simon had connections to the Russian mob?
So I really had little choice but to bend over, get on my knees, and take it like a man, and use my putter like a pool cue and tap the ball from underneath bench.
Basically I lost a stroke and a lot of distance playing pool with my putter.
Well as luck would have it the very next hole was a par 3 and Simon hit an exquisite shot right onto the green.
But sometimes luck has it both ways, and it just so happened that the groundskeeper had wound up a thick red watering hose in ever smaller loops into a sort of mini pyramid next to the green.
The red hose pyramid had a small hole at the top into which Simon's golf ball happily bounced. We walked up to the green together and we both peered into the black hole at the top of the hose pyramid. Simon's shot was indeed a hole in one, just the wrong hole.
Normally I would not have cared if Simon had unwound the hose and chipped onto the green, but after my pool cue shot on the last hole I just looked at Simon and calmly said, "Simon, you must play it were it lies!"
He looked at me, and for a second though about taking a huge whack at the hose pyramid which would have surely bent his club. Instead, caught by his own logic, he sadly picked up his ball and angrily walked back to the tee in a huff.
You see if you are playing by the official rules of golf, at least the way Simon interpreted them, this was a stroke and distance penalty so he had to go back and hit his now 3rd shot from the tee box.
As as a kid I learned to play golf by working as a caddy. As caddy's we worked, watched, and learned from how the members played golf on the weekends. And we practiced what we leaned on Monday as we got to play for free.
It was not until I played golf in Europe that I realized that many of the members regularly cheated when it came to playing golf, at least when held to the standard of the officials rules of golf. They cheated in two simple but significant ways.
When they lost a ball they would just drop a new one somewhere in the vicinity of were they had lost the first ball.
The rules of golf plainly state that this is a "stroke and distance" penalty. In Europe when somebody suspected that they have lost a ball they would take a provision shot so that if they could not find the first ball, they would play the second ball.
This way the lost ball incurred both a one "stroke" penalty and they would be no closer to the hole in "distance".
The members at my club just took the "stroke", but completely ignored the "distance" part of the stroke and distance penalty.
The second way I saw members commonly cheat was to improve the lie of their ball. If they hit the ball behind a tree they would tap it this way or that to get a clear shot. If they hit the ball into a tuft of thick grass, they would gently nudge it into a better lie.
The rules of golf clearly state that a player must hit the ball from were it lies as Simon so eloquently stated.
So in Europe I relearned the official rules and started to play by them, and I was thrilled when something amazing happened.
First, as you might have guessed, my score and handicapped increased. This was not amazing in the least bit.
But what was amazing was that by playing by the official rules I began to really enjoy the game more. It became so much more challenging, and I was really able to test myself. For instance when I hit a ball behind a tree I was forced to get myself out of this almost impossible lie.
And you know what?
Sometimes I actually hit a spectacular shot out of an almost impossible situation. I would have never had this spectacular "Tiger" moment if I had just nudged the ball from behind the tree when no one was looking.
It's a lesson that I recall today when I race and I see so many athletes casual cheating. And I wonder if they know that they are cheating, or perhaps like me when I began to play golf, it never occurs to them that they are cheating.
Next week I continue with "How to Cheat at Triathlon."
Post Script:In case you were wondering Simon was wrong. A player can move a man made obstacle.I could have moved the bench and he could have unwound the hose. But more importantly I manged to win that day and still lose a ton of money.
I won the match by hitting a hole in one on the final par 3 that day. And I lost tons of money, including everything that I won from Simon, by treating the entire club to drinks after the match.